There is a good deal of material in the Epistles generally which has a direct bearing on the Principles of Missions. This is especially true of the Epistles of Paul. This is to be expected for several reasons, the first of which is that the Apostle Paul was themissionary to the Gentiles. This being the case, the Epistles of Paul are emphatically missionary epistles. Quite in general it may be said they were written while Paul was on the mission field. Those Epistles addressed to churches, were in every instance addressed to congregations rather recently converted out of heathendom. These were concerned with problems encountered by “young” mission churches. Those written to individuals were concerned with the office and task of the preacher-evangelist, as well as with proper relationships among the believers in society.
There are three principles which emerge in the Pauline Epistles. There is the Apostle’s deep-seated consciousness of his office and the urgency of his task as an Apostle who is called, sent, and qualified by Jesus Christ. Paul gives expression to this especially in the salutations of the various epistles. This is what he writes to the church at Rome: “Paul, a servant (slave, R.D.) of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, (Which he had afore promised by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: by whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name: Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ: To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:1-7) Note how strongly the Apostle expresses his consciousness of his office. He identifies himself as the servant or slave of Jesus Christ. He is consecrated entirely to the service of Christ. He is called to be an apostle, and that means he is separated unto the gospel of God. By the crucified, resurrected Son of God he has received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations. These are the credentials with which the Apostle comes to the saints at Rome. This same consciousness of office and calling must characterize every faithful missionary of the gospel. So deeply did the Apostle feel this that he went so far as to write to the Corinthians: “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (I Cor. 9:16) Paul says necessity is laid upon him, he must preach the gospel. If he does not preach the gospel he is damned! “Woe is unto me!” The missionary or minister who cannot say that had better tender his resignation immediately! In a strikingly beautiful and profound passage the Apostle speaks of this consciousness in somewhat different terms: “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savor of his knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savor of death unto death; and to the other the savor of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as many, which corrupt the Word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.” Paul thanks God who always causes the Apostle and preachers to triumph in Christ. By them God makes manifest the sweet smell of His knowledge everywhere. That is true both in them that are saved and in them that perish. To the former the Apostles and preachers are a savor of life unto life and to the latter a savor of death unto death. No one but God Himself is sufficient for these things! Now, why is that true? Because, the Apostle answers, we do not corrupt the Word as do so many. Out of sincerity, out of God and in the sight of God the apostles and preachers speak in Christ. In another passage in the same epistle the Apostle expresses the same consciousness: “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (II Cor. 5:18-21) In this passage the Apostle speaks of the fact that God committed to the Apostles and preachers the ministry of reconciliation. Thus they are ambassadors for Christ. An ambassador is the official representative of the king. He speaks the official word of his sender. This means that God beseeches the people of God through the preachers: “be ye reconciled to God.” Finally, when speaking to Timothy of Jesus Christ: “Who gave himself a ransom for all,” the Apostle testifies: “Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity.” (I Timothy 2:6, 7)
From these same passages it is obvious that according to the Pauline epistles the missionary-preacher is an ambassador of God in Jesus Christ. He is one who is sent on an official task by God through Christ. This certainly means that the work is entirely God? It does not depend upon the preacher. God calls the missionary. God appoints him to the task and qualifies him for the work. God sends him according to His own good. pleasure. Through the preaching of the Word by the “sent” preacher God through Christ”gathers, defends, preserves unto Himself, by his. Spirit and Word, out of the whole human race, a church chosen to everlasting life.” (Heidelberg Catechism, L.D. XXI) Concerning his being qualified by the grace of God the Apostle writes to the Corinthians: “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” (I Cor. 15:10)
In the third place, the Apostle is deeply conscious of his utter dependency upon God. This certainly must characterize every missionary and preacher of the gospel. The Apostle writes to Corinth: “For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.” (I Cor. 16:9) If God had not opened that great and effectual door the Apostle could not have preached and could not have withstood those many adversaries. Likewise “the Apostle testifies that when he came to Troas to preach- Christ’s gospel, “a door was opened unto me of the Lord.” (II Cor. 2:12) So conscious of his dependence upon the Lord is the apostle that he instructs the Ephesians: “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints; And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Eph. 6:18-20) The Apostle is keenly aware of the fact that, apart from God’s giving him boldness, he is not able to proclaim the gospel as it ought to be proclaimed. Thus he made the same request of the Colossians. (Cf. Col. 4:3) In this same connection the Apostle instructs the Corinthians that in the preaching of the gospel God must give the .increase or the work is futile. (I Cor. 3:7)
It is perfectly clear from the Pauline Epistles that God through Christ accomplishes the work of gathering His elect out of the nations by one means and one means only, the preaching of the Word. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.” (Cf. John 10:16, 27) This is what distinguishes the sheep from those who do not belong in the fold. Unbelievers do not hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and that is because they do not belong to the sheep of Jesus. For this reason they believe not. But, says our Lord, “My sheep hear my voice.” Notice they do not hear about Jesus or concerning Jesus from someone else. They hear His voice. They hear Jesus Himself and Jesus knows them in all His saving love and they follow Him and find pasture for their souls. How is that possible? How can the sheep hear Christ now? The answer is by means of the preaching of the Word. This is the plain teaching of Romans 10:13-15: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent? . . .” From this passage it is unmistakably evident that the hearing of the gospel is indispensable to faith and, therefore, also unto salvation. “How shall they believe in him whom they have not heard?” Because hearing the gospel is indispensable to faith the gospel must be preached. If the gospel is to be preached in the proper sense (authoritative proclamation) the preacher must be sent (appointed and qualified) by Christ. Through the preaching by the one sent, Christ Himself is heard. This means most emphatically that not the word of the preacher or merely something about Christ is heard. Christ Himself is heard through the Word preached. Thus, hearing Christ, the sheep believe, and believing they call upon His name and are saved. This is why too the only proper preaching there is is expository preaching. The Scriptures must be explained and applied for therein is the Word of God in Christ which alone is able to save our souls.
The Scriptures teach the same truth in I Corinthians 1:21 ff. The question is not: Can God (is He able to) save in some other way than preaching? The question is: WillHe? The answer of Scripture is, no. It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe and to make of no effect the wisdom of this world. That is God’s eternal good pleasure; that is the way He is pleased to do it. His foolishness is wiser than men. And, the reason for this, according to I Corinthians 1, is, “That no flesh should glory in his presence.”